PR Tips: The SEO Value of a Press Release

Press Release SEO

Not long ago we featured an article that criticized PRWeb for publishing a press release in which they encouraged the use of press releases as SEO tools. To follow-up, I discussed with three SEO experts about the SEO value of a press release. Jill Whalen of High Rankings, Tadeusz Szewczyk (aka Tad Chef) of Onreact, and Ken Lyons of Wordstream offered their valuable input for the following questions:

  1. Are there real SEO benefits that can be expected from publishing press releases?

  2. Can press releases still be used for “link building?”

  3. What would you advise a PR practitioner not to do in a press release (from an SEO standpoint)?

Hopefully their answers will serve as guidelines for your future PR campaigns involving press release distribution.

Are there real SEO benefits that can be expected from publishing press releases?

Jill Whalen: Sure, but it goes well beyond the links that you put into press releases. In SEO, there are two basic components.

  • The first is creating an amazing website that goes above and beyond what others in the same space are doing.
  • And the second is getting the word out about it so that others know it exists and ideally tell their friends.

Where press releases come in handy is for that second component–getting the word out about your amazing site. Without the first component, however, you can send out a zillion press releases and it’s not going to help you.

Tad Chef: It depends how you define SEO and “real”. In case you refer to traditional SEO you are probably keen on link building with press releases. You still get links with press releases but they count far less than a few years ago. Google has lowered their value by now. So in case the “real” benefit is about getting higher rankings after submitting to press release sites: the effect is negligible.

What you can get though is short term rankings with the PR sites themselves. You can get visibility on the first page with Universal Search results via Google News. Just search for SEO and often you will get wacky press releases by SEO companies on top, somewhere in the middle or at the bottom. You can even rank in the default organic search results for slightly competitive key phrases. In the best case scenario you end up with several press release site in the top 20.

In modern SEO we would rather try to get people to reprint the press releases for their news value and thus get the links as a source. Also consider preparing a so called social media press release.

Ken Lyons: As I see it, there are three distinct SEO benefits to sending out press releases: deep link building, temporal ranking boosts, SERP crowding.

  • First, press releases allow you to build anchor text links to deeper pages on your site that don’t attract links naturally. And because of syndication and scraper sites, those deep pages will acquire lots of links from a variety of sources.
  • Secondly, those pages often see a subsequent boost in the search results because of the flood of signal and the freshness factor of syndication. However, that boost is usually temporary and fades within a few days, but the interim spike in SERP traffic is nice.
  • Thirdly, if you include your brand in the headline or subhead, the release should rank page one for a branded query and help you “crowd the SERPs” for your brand. And often, that release will occupy a slot on page one for a few months.

Can press releases still be used for “link building” – and is this approach ethical?

Jill Whalen: First, I’m not a big fan of the phrase “ethical SEO.” Ethics, to me, is a personal thing. People tend to be either trustworthy, honest and have integrity, or they don’t. Granted, there are gray areas to ethics and what’s considered right and wrong, and many people have no problem pushing that envelope.

In SEO, ethics are no different. You can try to push the envelope by doing things that that may not be in the best interest of the Internet community as a whole, but which may help your own self interests. Or you can be cognizant of the wider community interests, while also furthering your own goals. It may be more difficult and take longer to keep the community’s interest in mind, but you’ll typically have more long-lasting results when you do this. This is not to say that doing things the quick and easy way is unethical, however. It all depends on your own comfort level.

Using your question about link building and press releases as they relate to SEO as an example, we often find those who don’t care about the Internet community’s needs, have no problem adding clutter to search engines and press release sites by posting keyword stuffed “news” releases which are of no interest to actual people. They don’t care that those with Google alerts set up to learn about the latest news in their industry will come across this useless information. Or that journalists looking for interesting story fodder have to wade through oceans of SEO seaweed to find any treasures worth writing about. (Do we really care that your CEO sneezed yesterday?!) These folks only care that they receive a link from the press release sites that post their junk.

Whether or not there’s any actual link popularity benefit to this is debatable. I’ve never done it or even looked into it much since I do care about the Internet community as a whole and have no desire to add to the noise. My educated guess, however, is that press release sites that post anything and everything have likely been long ago filtered out of Google’s PageRank algorithm and do not pass much (if any) link juice.

Tad Chef: You can use press releases at the beginning of an SEO campaign to get a new website indexed and ranked for long tail phrases along with other basic link building techniques like directory submission for instance. In case you get real people not just scrapers to republish the press release you can get valuable links as well.

Ken Lyons: see the answer for the first question.

What would you advise a PR practitioner not to do in a press release (from an SEO standpoint)?

Jill Whalen: I think that’s answered in the first question. Basically, don’t write press releases just for the sake of writing press releases!

Tad Chef: Don’t assume everybody knows what you are writing about and cares for it. You must name and explain things. So don’t say “our new brand x is the revolution of the y market” but instead write “The new hair loss shampoo x will stimulate hair growth immediately.”

Ken Lyons: If you’re using press releases for deep link building, be sure to vary your syndication circuits. Different circuits means different coverage. So by varying syndication circuits, you’re varying your link profile. Point being, there’s absolutely no SEO benefit to having the same news outlets or scraper sites continually link to the same deep pages on your site over and over again.

PRWeb Knows Its Business

The press release published by PRWeb that triggered a negative reaction on my part was probably an accident. If you read PRWeb’s director of product management Jiyan Wei article on Visibility Magazine, How many back links can I get for $200?, you will see that PRWeb knows its business and it actually doesn’t encourage the use of press releases for SEO purposes only.

PRWeb doesn’t sell links, it simply distributes press releases that could result in excellent SEO performance provided that they are newsworthy. The effect is described by Jiyan Wei in the article mentioned above, as follows:

If the content is interesting and compelling, it will trigger the following activities:

  • It will capture the attention of editors, journalists and bloggers looking for compelling news to write about;
  • It will be syndicated on the sites of Web publishers looking for news to share with their audiences;
  • It will be shared by social media participants on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook;
  • It will be clicked-through by news consumers – your target audience.

As these activities take place, hyperlinks will start to be generated that will point back to the release creator’s own Web site and the aggregate will be an increase in the online equity of their Web property.

There appears to be a general consensus among SEOs and PR experts, that the SEO benefits of a press release are illusory without news value and getting editorial links from genuine news resources. So why do we still find crappy releases in the news results? Jill Whalen already gave a possible answer: some people just don’t care about the Internet community’s needs. This is a possible answer, yes. Another possibility is that some people just don’t know how to do things right, and hopefully this article offered some answers.


    • Mihaela Lica says

      This time the merit belongs entirely to the experts who answered these questions :)

  1. says

    The same syndication circuits is so true. I see a lot of PR people that have a specific list of places they send their press releases for each client, but obviously you reach the same people that way.

    What about the clients that are adamant about ONLY submitting releases to their pre-approved places?

  2. says

    Very nice article. I like how it explains to people that press releases can be a very good tool if written to spark interest and NOT to keyword stuff to gain links. If you write something valuable the links will come naturally the way they are suppose to.

  3. Matt Keegan says

    What an interesting conversation!

    As someone who sources news through press releases, I always look for the news component. If it is there, then I’ll consider running it on one of the six sites that I manage. If it is absent, then I move on.

    I *always* provide a link back to the press release within my trackbacks section and I will usually include a link back to that site within the body of the article.

    No, I don’t republish a press release in its entirety, rather I use it as the foundation for the article I’m writing. In addition, I will sometimes contact the source for more information to include within my article in order to give it a unique bent.

  4. Tad Miller says

    1. Press Releases only for the purpose of link building are a bad idea.
    2. If your going to have a press release and you have keywords that are valuable for your SEO and matching site content, I don’t see ANY problem in using one anchor text link to one deep linked page of your site. I would resist the temptation to do more than one link though because you are just watering down your efforts.
    3. Depending on the popularity of your brand and product or service, bloggers may completely reproduce your press release – anchor text links and all on their sites. These are viewed as editorial links and usually have subject matter relevance to what you provide. THAT’s GOOD.
    4. Press Release Links – when done properly STILL WORK! Most people who say they don’t are selling a much more expensive solution for high value editorial links – those solutions work. Yes a high value link from a great source might equal 25 press release links in a ranking algorithm, but the press release links are easier and more affordable.
    5. There is no good reason why you should NOT use an anchor text link in a press release. It takes 5 minutes.

  5. says

    I forgot to say something about the ethics of press releases for SEO: As long as the release itself makes sense and is not very low quality random content it’s ethical. It’s really that simple. There is nothing wrong per definition with using press releases for SEO purposes.

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